Malibu City Council Assesses Disaster Preparation Shortcomings
BY BILL KOENEKER
As smoke and fire raced toward Malibu City Hall and quickly cut off power, the municipality’s emergency operations center had to be moved out of the Stuart Ranch Road offices onto the Pepperdine University campus after power failures that Sunday morning closed down the EOC.
Malibu City Council members last week at a special meeting said they did not want that to happen again and allocated $200,000 for power equipment and other supplies to rectify the situation.
Council members also explored whether city officials should have satellite phones or other hardware for emergencies. They instructed the city manager to use his discretion in spending the money.
City Manager Jim Thorsen acknowledged there were “a couple of issues” during the fire and suggested he would use the funds to shore up “the weakest links.”
Thorsen said he and his staff would look at not only acquiring a generator to power the EOC, but purchasing an additional unit.
Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Brad Davis indicated the city does have back up generators, but none of them are set to automatically go on when the power goes out. Thorsen said an automatic system is required.
Council members indicated they wanted to see the city’s power problems and any other obvious emergency preparations taken care of immediately.
Councilmember Andy Stern disagreed with the majority, saying there should be a study before money was turned over. But the measure passed on a 2-1 vote, with the approval of Councilmembers Sharon Barovsky and Pamela Conley Ulich. Mayor Jeff Jennings and Councilmember Ken Kearsley were absent.
There were other lessons that city officials should have learned from last January’s Malibu Road fire as they had been previously addressed.
“We knew Charter might go out. We decided last January to get a television [satellite] dish and we could watch what the media broadcast. We did not lose television,” added Davis, who acknowledged that the city was without its cable broadcast television on channel three on Charter.
Davis said the city’s radio station, which does not perform very well during the best of times, performed poorly during the fire.
Thorsen said he wants to look at upgrading the signal tower for better radio communications. “Maybe we will get a tower on one of the islands,” he added.
Davis said, in the meantime, he would suggest that if folks want to get their information via radio, they stay tuned to one of the all-news stations such as KNX.
The EPC said the city was most successful in getting information out via the telephone hotline.
“It does not need a lot of technology. We had our first information out by 6 a.m.,” he added.
The city official also explained some of the evacuation procedures taken by the city. He said a facility was set up at the Trancas end of Zuma Beach. “We were telling people to go to that side of the beach,” he noted.
Davis said the city was not in the loop when Agoura Hills High School was tapped for a Red Cross Center. “We said we need Malibu to be in on it. We said Malibu High School should be designated as an evacuation center,” he said.
Thorsen indicated that the city’s emergency call system was not activated. “We had already evacuated the streets. We were already past that point and did not activate it,” he added.
The city’s emergency call system is operated by a private company, American Emergency Notification, which operates a computerized phone system that can reach thousands of numbers an hour, providing detailed emergency information. The system can leave voice mail and answering machine messages and also can redial if there is a busy signal or no answer.
“We are not sure the company can provide what we need. We are going to be looking at that,” added Thorsen, who explained that the city wants to look at developing more of an e-mail warning system, but didn’t explore the power concerns related to that.